Deaf patients in healthcare battle

Matt Dixon with his father, Phillip

Matt Dixon with his father, Phillip

First published in News York Press: Photograph of the Author by

DEAF patients are being denied fair access to healthcare in York, a damning report has found.

One deaf mother had to watch her baby have an unexplained injection and another person had her blood taken without being told why, a report by watchdog Healthwatch York said.

At York Hospital, one cancer patient’s son had to tell his father the condition was terminal, due to a lack of available sign language interpreters.

Young mothers have said they are worried about getting to the GP when their babies are ill due to a two to three week waiting list for an interpreter.

Healthwatch York said there was a “significant litigation risk” arising from misdiagnosis and inappropriate treatment.

The watchdog said: “This work has revealed that there are a number of problems faced by deaf people in accessing health and social care services in York. Deaf people are also excluded from a wide range of public meetings and engagement events as no provision is made for their inclusion.

“Deaf people are not asking for special treatment, just equal treatment.”

At a public meeting for deaf people in York last summer, the majority of reported problems related to GP surgeries, with patients struggling to book appointments and a lack of access to interpreters.

NHS England has said it is the responsibility of GP surgeries to ensure access to interpreters, the report notes.

While access to interpreters is a longstanding problem, recent changes to the health service had “made things worse”, service users said.

Some reported being left in the waiting rooms at doctor and hospital appointments because they did not hear their name called and there were no visual indicators.

York councillor Neil Barnes, who has a hearing impairment, said: “From visiting your GP, to attending public meetings or wishing to visit the cinema, access to these can be taken for granted by hearing people.

“Whereas for deaf or hard of hearing people, it’s made much harder by lack of access and understanding.”

He welcomed the Healthwatch report and praised the local deaf community for their contributions. He said he would raise the issue of access to meetings with the city council.

In March 2010, there were 250 people registered as deaf and 916 hard of hearing in the city.

York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust said an Access to Services group had now been formed to look at issues and make recommendations.

Dr Paul Edmondson-Jones, City of York Council’s director of health and wellbeing, said there was equal access to most services but said: “This excellent report from Healthwatch shows that there is room for improvement and we will work closely with Healthwatch, local stakeholders and deaf people to further understand how we can make improvements.”

Dr Mark Hayes, chief clinical officer of NHS Vale of York Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), said its new Equality Diversity and Human Rights Strategy outlines a guarantee to promote equality.


Case study

YORK man Matt Dixon had to tell his father he was going to die due to a lack of sign language interpreters.

As the only hearing person in his family, Matt, 33, accompanied his father, Phillip, to interpret at more than 60 appointments as he was treated for cancer because a trained interpreter was generally not available.

At a chemotherapy appointment at York Hospital they were asked to see the consultant when she broke the news Phillip’s cancer was terminal.

“It was horrendous,” Matt said, “We were called in and the doctor was using a lot of medical terms which I was relaying back to him in broken sign language. Then she said ‘we need to focus on palliative care’.

"The thing that really gets me was my Dad’s face. When I told him, he just smiled. He was controlling his emotions to protect me and he said, ‘I just have to accept it’, which just cut me up.

“An interpreter would have been a professional communicator. Rather than me being there to support my dad, he had to support me, which is completely wrong.”

Philip, 56, from the Stockton Lane area, died at home five months later, in the summer of 2009.

Matt, a police detective in South Yorkshire, has since begun to train as a sign language interpreter and helps to write for The Limping Chicken website, a deaf news website.

He is campaigning for the British Sign Language Act – a legal right for deaf people to receive support from registered communication professionals, for which an e-petition has been signed by thousands of people.

A spokeswoman for York Hospital said: “We are sorry to hear about Mr Dixon’s experiences. Through the trust’s Access To Services group we can make recommendations to improve the interpreting services we provide for our patients who are deaf.”

Comments (10)

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3:48pm Mon 10 Feb 14

Lisa Rufforth says...

The deaf community need some recognition that they have an equal right to information. This has been going on for too many years and the fact that the deaf community are a minority group doesn't excuse the NHS' responsibility. Go Matt your dad was an inspiration and if you can make a difference in his name all the better.xx
The deaf community need some recognition that they have an equal right to information. This has been going on for too many years and the fact that the deaf community are a minority group doesn't excuse the NHS' responsibility. Go Matt your dad was an inspiration and if you can make a difference in his name all the better.xx Lisa Rufforth
  • Score: 8

5:09pm Mon 10 Feb 14

Pedro says...

People should be treated equally. No excuses not to be.
People should be treated equally. No excuses not to be. Pedro
  • Score: 2

7:40pm Mon 10 Feb 14

Daisy75 says...

Is there a shortage of sign interpreters? I guess it's hard to provide them if there's not enough to go round. For foreign languages the hospital does it through a phone translation service rather than actual people attending, which is obviously less hard to arrange. But for obvious reasons, its not possible to do that with sign language.
Is there a shortage of sign interpreters? I guess it's hard to provide them if there's not enough to go round. For foreign languages the hospital does it through a phone translation service rather than actual people attending, which is obviously less hard to arrange. But for obvious reasons, its not possible to do that with sign language. Daisy75
  • Score: 0

7:44pm Mon 10 Feb 14

Matt Dixon BSL says...

Thanks Lisa, I'll keep going until the NHS listens, at the time we just accepted it however knowing what I know now , it's completely unacceptable. The equality act doesn't protect deaf people as using a family member or pen and paper would be classed as "reasonable adjustment" family members should be there for support not used as forced volunteers.
How can it be right, that 140 languages are catered for by a service called language line but yet BSL is ignored. It not down to a shortage in interpreters as the booking were always made well in advance, it down to complete lack of deaf awareness.
The only thing deaf people are asking for is for equality and inclusion is that too much to ask?. What will it take? A deaf person to die through Misdiagnosis?!
Thanks Lisa, I'll keep going until the NHS listens, at the time we just accepted it however knowing what I know now , it's completely unacceptable. The equality act doesn't protect deaf people as using a family member or pen and paper would be classed as "reasonable adjustment" family members should be there for support not used as forced volunteers. How can it be right, that 140 languages are catered for by a service called language line but yet BSL is ignored. It not down to a shortage in interpreters as the booking were always made well in advance, it down to complete lack of deaf awareness. The only thing deaf people are asking for is for equality and inclusion is that too much to ask?. What will it take? A deaf person to die through Misdiagnosis?! Matt Dixon BSL
  • Score: 3

7:46pm Mon 10 Feb 14

spottycow says...

We can soon find INTERPRETERS for people from the BALTIC who come to our shores to live and work but not for our own .DEAF people need the same RESPECT AS WELL NOT AS SECOND CLASS PEOPLE HANG YOUR HEAD IN SHAME N H S york
We can soon find INTERPRETERS for people from the BALTIC who come to our shores to live and work but not for our own .DEAF people need the same RESPECT AS WELL NOT AS SECOND CLASS PEOPLE HANG YOUR HEAD IN SHAME N H S york spottycow
  • Score: 0

7:47pm Mon 10 Feb 14

Matt Dixon BSL says...

Daisy75 wrote:
Is there a shortage of sign interpreters? I guess it's hard to provide them if there's not enough to go round. For foreign languages the hospital does it through a phone translation service rather than actual people attending, which is obviously less hard to arrange. But for obvious reasons, its not possible to do that with sign language.
No shortage at all, four BSL interpreters cater for York. Nowadays there is the technology to assist via video call, FaceTime, Skype etc etc so there isn't any excuses.
[quote][p][bold]Daisy75[/bold] wrote: Is there a shortage of sign interpreters? I guess it's hard to provide them if there's not enough to go round. For foreign languages the hospital does it through a phone translation service rather than actual people attending, which is obviously less hard to arrange. But for obvious reasons, its not possible to do that with sign language.[/p][/quote]No shortage at all, four BSL interpreters cater for York. Nowadays there is the technology to assist via video call, FaceTime, Skype etc etc so there isn't any excuses. Matt Dixon BSL
  • Score: 0

8:04pm Mon 10 Feb 14

Matt Dixon BSL says...

The sad thing is , is that this is a UK wide problem. We are extremely grateful that health watch exposed NHS York however we seriously hope they can investigate across all of the UK as I think it will be equally as shocking regardless of the location.
I help run a campaign group on Facebook called. "Spit The Dummy and Campaign for BSL Act. We have over 11200 members, over 2000 posts. From those members reporting similar things.
The sad thing is , is that this is a UK wide problem. We are extremely grateful that health watch exposed NHS York however we seriously hope they can investigate across all of the UK as I think it will be equally as shocking regardless of the location. I help run a campaign group on Facebook called. "Spit The Dummy and Campaign for BSL Act. We have over 11200 members, over 2000 posts. From those members reporting similar things. Matt Dixon BSL
  • Score: 0

6:35pm Tue 11 Feb 14

Loollah says...

Personally the sensible option for somewhere as big as York Hospital would be to train a small number of their staff (nursing or clerical) to interpret BSL. That way, there would always be someone in the hospital available to assist. As an admin worker at York Hospital, I would certainly be willing to volunteer.
Personally the sensible option for somewhere as big as York Hospital would be to train a small number of their staff (nursing or clerical) to interpret BSL. That way, there would always be someone in the hospital available to assist. As an admin worker at York Hospital, I would certainly be willing to volunteer. Loollah
  • Score: 0

4:24am Wed 12 Feb 14

Magicman! says...

Couldn't an iterim solution be to have a laptop or tablet computer available, with a word processor program open... so that if the medical person has to say "your baby is having an injection because of..." then they can just type it out on the computer and show it to the hearing-impaired person. I'm sure not everybory who is deaf or hard of hearing knows sign language
Couldn't an iterim solution be to have a laptop or tablet computer available, with a word processor program open... so that if the medical person has to say "your baby is having an injection because of..." then they can just type it out on the computer and show it to the hearing-impaired person. I'm sure not everybory who is deaf or hard of hearing knows sign language Magicman!
  • Score: 0

2:16pm Wed 12 Feb 14

Lisa Rufforth says...

Loolah as commendable your enthusiasm is to learn BSL is, it takes many years to become proficient enough to be able to interpret clinical language. Its not that there is no one there to provide the service, it is the fact that often patients are not "flagged" as deaf and requiring an interpreter, nor is any effort made to find out if one is needed. A few years ago some evidence suggested that the average deaf adult has a reading ability of an 8 yr old child, this should make people realise that a pen and paper is not an option.
Loolah as commendable your enthusiasm is to learn BSL is, it takes many years to become proficient enough to be able to interpret clinical language. Its not that there is no one there to provide the service, it is the fact that often patients are not "flagged" as deaf and requiring an interpreter, nor is any effort made to find out if one is needed. A few years ago some evidence suggested that the average deaf adult has a reading ability of an 8 yr old child, this should make people realise that a pen and paper is not an option. Lisa Rufforth
  • Score: 1

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